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Rowley: We’ll return to rapid rail system

Friday, March 21, 2014

The rapid rail service, linking the East-West Corridor, will be resurrected under a PNM government, party leader Keith Rowley told a St Ann’s East constituency meeting in Bourg Mulatresse, Santa Cruz, on Wednesday evening. He described T&T as having a chronic transport problem that the current government did not know how to solve, citing its attempts to create more taxi licences as a failure and said the highway extension which is costing $7 billion would have cost $4 billion under the PNM. “We said that we would review the whole idea of a mass transit system to this country,” Rowley told the crowd. “They (the PP coalition) said because the PNM talked about rapid rail and (Colm) Imbert was the minister, they don't want any part of Imbert or the PNM, so out goes rapid rail... and what did they replace it with? Nothing “Well, not nothing,” he continued, “Jack Warner promised to replace it with a tunnel from Tunapuna to Maracas,” a comment greeted with laughter.


He described the country as being awash with foreign-used cars with “less and less roads for them to run on. “There are very few options to build highways through the East-West Corridor, where half the population lives,” he said, “but if we build a rapid transit system from Diego Martin to Sangre Grande and a T-junction going to La Romaine, it can become an economic backbone where you can move on a scheduled service and the rest of the country's transport can feed off that backbone.” He said a rail journey from Sangre Grande to Port-of-Spain would take 45 minutes and would allow citizens to live in the East and work or study in the West (and vice versa) without having to spend hours in traffic jams.


The proposed rail network would be subject to a feasibility review first, and if agreed it would take ten years to build and cost $20 billion. But Rowley said the cost would be minimal in comparison to the “$4 billion we waste each year in fuel subsidies,” and that the project would bring economic benefits by creating jobs during the construction phase and by increasing the efficiency of commuting for workers. Rowley, who at one time was Minister of Planning and Development under Patrick Manning's administration, said the Vision 2020 “roadmap” was still valid, despite being scrapped when the People's Partnership coalition took power but admitted the timescales would be revised as the target date was no longer achievable.  


Vision 2030 now looks like forming a major part of the PNM's 2015 general election manifesto and will include the rapid rail system proposed by Manning's government before it lost the 2010 general election. He also spoke about the Caribbean region, saying the “good health of T&T is dependent on the good health of our neighbours.” He told the crowd that Jamaica’s being placed under an IMF (International Monetary Fund) programme to salvage its failing economy and Barbados laying off 3,000 government workers could have negative effects on T&T. Neighbouring islands were heavy purchasers of products manufactured in T&T, he said, and if other islands could not afford to buy T&T products because the market was contracting, it would have a knock-on effect, as the jobs of manufacturers in T&T would be under threat.


Grant: not me and the polls

At this, the 17th meeting of Rowley's Meet the Constituents nationwide tour, part of his campaign for re-election as party leader on May 18, the PNM leader laid into criticisms by Sunday Express columnist Lennox Grant, who had described Rowley's plans to return to Vision 2020 as “time-warped.” He described Grant as a “politician who once ran against the PNM and lost his deposit. He never mentions that. He writes as a scribe who speaks from a distant, impartial position but I know he ran against the PNM. He had political aspirations and lost.” 

Grant in fact never ran for office. Many of his Tapia movement colleagues did and all lost their deposits in the 1976 and 1981 general elections but Grant worked as editor of the Tapia magazine and was not a candidate. Yesterday, Grant, a former editor in chief of the T&T Guardian, confirmed he was never a politician and said: “There's a book called Trinidad and Tobago: the Independence Experience 1962-87, by Selwyn Ryan, which lists every candidate that ran during that period. My name is not in it.”


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